SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
September 3, 2017

Cane Whipped

 

Despite how long I’d been using the cane, and despite how long I’ve been living in this neighborhood, a couple of years ago I suddenly found myself getting lost while attempting to run even the simplest of errands. I was even getting lost on my own block. All my standard landmarks had vanished overnight, it seemed, leaving me wandering into traffic and trying to get into other people’s houses.

            It’s the nature of the disease that things always have a way of unexpectedly degenerating further overnight, long after you’d concluded they couldn’t possibly degenerate any more. Well okay then, I decided, instead of whining about it, maybe the best, most proactive (god I hate that word) thing to do is get in touch with the state blindo agency and have them send another cane lady down to Bay Ridge to give me a little refresher. I mean, who knows what kind of advances might have been made in the art and science of tapping since I last went through mobility training?

            In August of 2015, then, I scanned through the list of all the blindo social workers I’d dealt with over the years. It was an awful lot of names from half a dozen agencies, but I chose the most important-sounding one, gave her a call and explained my situation.

            She told me that at the moment, they were waiting to learn what kind of funding they’d be getting that year. Once they knew that, and if they had the available resources, they’d certainly send someone down to help out. She assured me she’d be getting back in touch as soon as she knew anything solid.

            Okay then, that sounded promising. I hung up the phone and went about my business.

            Three months later, in November of 2015, the phone rang just as I was headed out the door for a medical appointment of one kind or another. I stepped back inside the apartment and picked up. It was, at long last, the blindo agency lady again, who was happy to report their funding had come through, so they’d be able to send out another mobility instructor to help me once again re-learn my way around Bay Ridge. She told me I should be expecting a call from someone in the coming weeks to schedule an appointment.

            Well, that was super.

            A few weeks passed, and the promised phone call never arrived. That was okay. Over the years I’d come to learn that within the convoluted bureaucracy of the state’s blind agencies (which, so far as I know, still don’t use computers), phrases like “a few weeks” carry very little meaning.

            Then a year passed. That was okay, too, as in the meantime and out of simple necessity, I’d just gone ahead and retrained myself, picking up new landmarks and ad-libbing a few tricks. It was a matter of trial and error resulting in one broken cane in the process. It took a little time, but I was once again navigating around the neighborhood with very little problem.

            So one night this past July when Morgan checked the ringing phone’s caller ID and told me it looked like a blindo agency, my immediate response was, “What the fuck do they want?” Having long since concluded my paperwork had been lost and forgotten and my file closed yet again, I figured they were looking for some kind of charitable donation, so I decided not to pick up.

            The woman on the other end left a message in which she gave her name, affiliation and phone number, but no explanation for why she was calling.

            The next morning, after I’d sobered up, the message was still blinking. Out of morbid curiosity more than anything else, I called her back.

            “You submitted a request for more mobility instruction?” She asked. Why was I not surprised?

            “Um, that was two years ago.”

            “I’m sorry—I just received the paperwork yesterday. So are you free tomorrow morning at ten?”

            “What? After two years? I don’t really need it anymore, thanks.”

            She went on as if I hadn’t said anything, asking me a series of questions about my condition. The changes in my condition. And the reasons why I put in the request.

            “You’ve had mobility instruction before?” She asked.

            “Sure.”

            “With who?”

            “What?”

            “Who instructed you?”

            “Christ, fuck if I know. I saw her twice twenty-five years ago, and don’t think I caught her name then. Just some lady. She had an academic haircut, if that helps.”

            This went on for awhile, and in the end I finally agreed to let her come by. After two years of waiting I might as well, right? Simply as a matter of good faith. Figured it couldn’t hurt, I had no real plans, and like I noted above, who knows what kind of advances had been made in the field?

            “So is there anything in particular you’re looking for help with?” She asked.

            “Not anymore.”

            With that, and after asking what sort of cane and cane tip I used, she told me she’d stop by the next morning at ten.

            The next morning at five to ten, as I was hoping she’d cancel, the sky opened up and the rain began falling hard.

            Well that’s that, right? Supposed to rain all damn day. No point in trying to teach someone how to tap in a downpour. It’d just be miserable for everyone involved, and precious little would be learned. But no call came, and I realized that if she did cancel, we probably wouldn’t be able to reschedule until 2023. Plus I always get a free new cane out of these things, which is cool. I was in need of a backup.

            At ten-thirty, the doorbell rang, and after sighing heavily I ushered a soggy middle aged woman into the apartment.

            “You have blood on your right cheek,” she said.

            “Yeah, thanks. That just happened. I was checking to see if the bathroom ceiling was leaking again.”

            We sat at the table, and she told me the two year wait was on account of my not being elderly, and not needing an emergency refresher in order to get to a job or medical appointments.

            “Nope, just the store and bank and post office.”

            “So that’s why you were shifted into the third category, which is the slow lane.”

            “I see.”

            She asked a few more background questions, and offered a few suggestions and notes about changing traffic patterns that were absolutely useless to me as they required, um, seeing. At one point she said “Normally I’d like to go out on the sidewalks with you to observe your technique, but it’s really coming down out there.”

            “Right.”

            So we talked about the cats and what assholes those people in Park Slope were. Then she left without giving me my new cane. Guess they hold those in reserve as a door prize for whenever you actually do something.

            The moment she left, the rain stopped and the sun came out. She’d been perfectly pleasant and nice, so I don’t know why I’m so resistant to these people. Part of it I guess is that for as long as I’ve been dealing with them and as many as I’ve seen over the years, I’ve never gotten anything useful out of them save for new canes (which save me twenty bucks a pop) and those nifty spatula tongs. Part of it is akin to my dealings with shrinks. Not only do I think I’m smarter than they are, that I know more than they do, but I go in thinking there’s no way they can possibly comprehend my experience, and don’t deserve to understand me. Which all begs the question, why the fuck do I keep calling them expecting something?

 

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